13 is #1

Black Sabbath’s new album “13” is #1 in the UK charts, 43 years after their last number one with the Paranoid album in 1970.

I had mixed feelings right up until I heard it streaming on iTunes a few days before it was released where I sat cross-legged, hunched over my laptop with my earphones on. It was an emotional experience, it was new an old at the same time, the thrill of anticipation mixed with flashes back to days, places and faces long past. I never realised just how much music and Sabbath in particular had bookmarked my memories.

The CD was something else again, the liner notes a joy to read, the artwork simple and real, a wicker sculpture was burned in a field and the discs are a pair of Vertigo swirls, like the middles cut out of my 70’s Sabbath albums.
Nostalgia only goes so far, the music had to stand up by itself, and after a week of constant play, it’s something of a relief that it’s still standing.

It opens with End of the Beginning which is probably just what I wanted to hear – pure early Sabbath. Was it written to sound that way? Cynics would say yes, but then what else are they going to write? You are what you are, it would be more contrived to try and sound different. God is Dead? was the single and at nearly nine minutes long (only a few seconds longer than it’s predecessor) it’s not trying very hard to be accessible. Bless then for that.
Loner swings, Zeitgeist floats and Age of Reason grinds. The changes of mood are many, as are changes of tempo, 13 is always inventive and it feels like that’s as much down to producer Rick Rubin as it is to the band. Sabbath needed Rubin, to keep them under control, to push them back out of it and to make them work. The playing is all the better for it.
Ozzy is trying so hard, reaching as far as he can with a voice that has no high notes left to give with inventive phrasing that makes a mockery of the monotone mumblings of his last half dozen solo albums.
Geezer has written a set of lyrics that are a joy to read, he’s a clever bugger, and his virtuoso bass playing is an edgy, rumbling presence through the album and it’s deservedly high in the mix.
Iommi plays better here than he’s done since the early 80’s, everything that inspired my to pick up the guitar as a teenager comes out again and again and grabs me as hard as it did back then. Damaged Soul is a blues grind with Iommi playing off the cuff licks and solos and it stuns me every time I listen to it, his guard is down, it’s not note perfect, and Rubin must have fought for this raw version of it. I love it, even the production feel on this is different, it’s just, I dunno. Best song on the album? Maybe.

The bonus tracks are okay, I’m glad they’re on a separate disc, the album closes with church bells and rain, just as the first album opened back in’70 and extra tracks on disc one after that retro outro wouldn’t have worked. The songs have a different feel anyway, more contemporary maybe, more straight metal, more Ozzy solo style even? The 8 tracks on disc one are a fine rounded body of work as they are.
I reckon rock bands should only record vinyl length albums anyway, too much padding on CD’s, there’s inspired song writing and then there’s writing enough music to fill a CD so you don’t get complaints about lack of value.

Will I still be listening to it in a year? I hope so, I find myself singing some of the tunes, good riffs, good hooks and it’s heavy too. Not all detuned and multilayered guitar though, it’s an attitude or an ambiance, it’s what Sabbath had, have, naturally and everyone else has to try and engineer.

13 is a great album, better still it doesn’t disgrace the band or embarrass old blokes like me. #1, bloody marvelous.